Browns lastly make the playoffs, then COVID hits

Back in January 2018, Cleveland Browns fan Chris McNeil organized the “Perfect Season Parade” to “celebrate” the team’s recently concluded 0-16 season, the second such senseless campaign in NFL history.

The inner city route of the parade was designed in equal parts comical and cathartic and had the shape of a zero (“the round without a victory” as it was called). The 3,000 or so fans who came brought signs, flags and even gravestones with the names of the failed Browns quarterbacks.

There was an ambulance. There was a hearse. There was an afternoon full of emotion about what it’s like to go for such a bad franchise.

“When it comes to the Browns,” McNeil said this week, “you either have to laugh or cry.”

That was a day for both of them. Nobody thought the dueling emotions would carry over to the fate of the Browns, as they did this weekend when Cleveland’s 18-year playoff drought ended with a wild card game in Pittsburgh on Sunday.

But here we are.

Not long after Cleveland’s Week 17 win secured the long-awaited playoff offer, fate gave Browns fans another blow. It was revealed that two key players, plus head coach Kevin Stefanski and two assistants, would have to miss the game after testing positive for COVID-19.

The virus would also ban any practices that come into play – the Browns haven’t practiced together in two and a half weeks.

What does Cleveland Brown’s football say more than a playoff game without the head coach and any exercises?

“It’s like ‘The Monkey’s Paw,'” said McNeil, referring to the old short story about how even a wish can have unexpected consequences. “They wish so hard and for so long that the Browns only play the playoffs, and what happens when they finally do?”

McNeil could only sigh.

“Classic Browns,” he said.

It’s really.

Whether it will stop Cleveland from upsetting Pittsburgh (the Steelers are 6-point favorites) remains to be seen. But it certainly doesn’t help. And meanwhile, some of the thrill has been gotten from building a game that was a long, long time coming.

The story goes on

Cleveland Browns fans celebrate after the team beat the Pittsburgh Steelers to reach the playoffs for the first time in 18 years. (AP)A Cleveland Browns fan is watching this "Perfect season" Parade, Saturday, January 6, 2018, in Cleveland.  The Browns were the second team in NFL history to lose 16 games in one season.  By joining the Detroit Lions in 2008 at a shameful losers club, the Browns hit a new low in nearly two decades of shame since their return as an expansion franchise in 1999.  (AP Photo / Tony Dejak)A Cleveland Browns fan is watching the Perfect Season parade on January 6, 2018 in Cleveland. (AP Photo / Tony Dejak)

Cleveland has not won a playoff game since 1994 when Bill Belichick was its coach. The Browns fired him a year later and he led only the largest dynasty in the history of the league. Oops.

The franchise has never made a Super Bowl unless you count, when the team moved to Baltimore in 1996 and then transformed into a two-time champion and one of the best-run organizations in the league. Oops.

The “Browns” were reborn in 1999, but they had only booked two winning seasons before this, averaging just 4.8 wins per season.

Things were so bad for so long that Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger was technically the most successful quarterback in Cleveland’s FirstEnergy Stadium history, despite only playing one game a year there. Baker Mayfield eventually won his 12th game as a starter at the stadium earlier this year to overtake Big Ben and give an actual Cleveland player the Cleveland record.

Of course, the Browns would finally work together just to pull the rug out from underneath (possibly) just as the fun part began.

“Cleveland only,” said Anthony Lima, co-host of the morning show on 92.3 The Fan. “That’s what we say, ‘Cleveland only. ‘

“Can’t you just give us 24 hours to enjoy the thrill of the first playoff trip in 18 years? No? “Lima continued.” And oh, it’s Stefanski who is most responsible for it. OIC That’s it. “

38-year-old Stefanski is in his first year of employment. He instantly turned a talented but undisciplined mess into a professional operation and team with 11 wins. His presence alone has instilled a level of trust and interest in the soccer-loving Northeast Ohio that has not been seen in decades.

“It’s just a wildcard game, but I expect the TV ratings will match those of Game 7 of the NBA Finals,” said Lima, referring to the LeBron James era with the Cavaliers. “Football is so deeply rooted in this region.”

Apart from the fact that Stefanski will not be there, he will be replaced by the coordinator of the special teams, Mike Priefer. Two other assistants are also on the way, as well as the Pro Bowl guard Joel Bitonio and the wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge. On sports talk radio, fans were trying to get Stefanski into one of those food bubbles or something. The NFL won’t do that, though.

Perhaps just as importantly, the team’s facility has been closed for weeks due to waves of virus outbreaks. Mayfield said Thursday that he hasn’t even thrown a ball this week.

“We’re just going to play the hand we’re given and go there with a great attitude,” said Mayfield.

If the Browns do this, they’re doing it the hard way. Maybe it’s the only way.

“We’re used to it in Cleveland,” said McNeil. “Every time something good happens, the pendulum swings back. Look, soccer is the toy aisle of life and with all the important things going on it is worth saying.

“But still … after 18 years?”

Cleveland only.

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